Sacrificing for fashion

dressing for dinner sm

One only has to look at the annals of history to see the changes in fashion. Styles have dictated the lives of both men and women for as long as we have chronicled human accounts.  Hemlines have gone up and down, fabrics have gone from cotton to synthetics, and all the while we have been addicted to what the fashion designers have charged as “in style.” However, our intentions of being “fashionable” have created a negative impact; our desire to look our best has often been at the expensive of the most vulnerable creatures that share the planet…the animals.

The use of bird feathers in fashion had become an established trend for women in Europe and the United States. The millinery industry in the past centuries supported and encouraged what was vogue. In the 1880s on average, the millinery trade’s demand for plumage and skins resulted in the destruction of as many as fifteen million American birds annually, from songbirds to waterfowl.

Around 1900 it could be said to be the pinnacle of glove-wearing. To satisfy all the varieties from evening gloves, winter gloves, and even driving gloves, they were made from wool, cashmere, silk, kid, doeskin, and cape (a sheepskin leather) for both men and women.   The 1600s was nothing short of devastation for beavers; Europe had all but extinguished their population. Its fur was used to fashion hats and trim coats. Hunters turned to North America to supplement the appetite of the fashion mongers creating the beaver to become nearly extinct here too.

Boots, shoes, belts, jackets, coats, handbags, hats and wallets produced from reptile skins were supplemented for the fashion industry. By the 1950s, demand for hides and uncontrolled hunting in the southeastern United States had almost wiped out the species of alligators.  Even the whales were not left behind. In the 19th century, “whale baleen” (the plates in the whale mouth used to sieve food) was an important fashion tool. Flexible and strong; dried baleen was used in the manufacturing of “tight structure” in clothing, such as corsets.  And we all know the impact furs have had on the extensive array of animals; seals, fox, vicuna (relative to the llama), otters, spotted cats (such as jaguars and tigers).

Sadly, the list goes on and on. So the next time you are in the Florida Everglades consider yourself very lucky if you happen to see a Roseate Spoonbill. Although it is slowly making a come-back, it is a rare site since its ancestors’ beautiful feathers once adorned so many hats.

Today’s esteemed thinker is not relegated to one person in particular, but to those who uphold and protect the Endangered Species Act of 1973. When it was passed by Congress “it recognized that our rich natural heritage is of “esthetic, ecological, educational, recreational, and scientific value to our Nation and its people.” The law prohibits any action that causes a “taking” of any listed species of endangered fish or wildlife. Likewise, import, export, interstate, and foreign commerce of listed species are all generally prohibited. The act provides a program for the conservation of threatened and endangered plants and animals and the habitats in which they are found.

Esteemed thinker: Richard Jefferies

nest Leftovers are usually thought of as food that we will eat later’; sometimes because we want to and other times because we feel guilty. In restaurants there is even a word for the container we put our uneaten food at the end of our meal. This is the ‘doggy bag’ however, one has to wonder if the dog ever really sees this food. And then, does this mean that if we do not have a dog we are taking the food under false pretences?

The term leftover seems to be a human word, used for things we will relegate and save for later. However, is it possible that the idea of leftovers can also be in the animal kingdoms? For example; when taking a walk in winter and early spring, right when the tress are leafless or just before the buds open, up in the highest boughs one can observe nests; large and small nests that were constructed quite eloquently, for they are nestled securely for a bird family, and probably quite comfortable. But during these times of years, when we can see them quite clearly , they are empty…as we would say…no one is home. Which gets us thinking, are these habitats leftovers? If another bird came along would its vacancy give it “squatter’s rights”?

Richard Jeffries Today’s blog invites you to learn about a bit about the esteemed thinker: Richard Jefferies (1848-1847). English born author, Jeffries wrote during the latter portion of Victorian England, whose affinity for nature and rural life is evidenced in his work. Unknown today by most readers, his influence on other greats such as W.H. Hudson, Edward Thomas, Henry Willaimson, and John Fowles has been noted. In his early career he was a reporter for the North Wilts Herald, a Tory newspaper based in Swindon. In 1878 in the Pall Mall Gazette a series of 24 articles under the title “The Gamekeeper at Home”, based on memories. As time went on he took his pen to fiction, where he became established as the foremost natural history and country writer of his day.

And so in keeping with his reputation as a naturalist, I bring to you a bit of rural life among the “birds”. Here is a snippet from Richard Jeffries essay, Bird’s Nest. And next time you are out, look up and you may see those architectural wonders built by our two legged friends, the birds.

“…The nest requires a structure round it like a cage, so that the fledglings might be prevented from leaving it till better able to save themselves. Those who go to South Kensington to look at the bird’s-nest collection there should think of this if they hear any one discoursing on infallible instinct on the one hand, or evolution on the other. These two theories, the infallible instinct and that of evolution, practically represent the great opposing lines of thought—the traditional and the scientific. An examination of birds’ nests, if conducted free of prejudice, will convince any independent person neither that the one nor the other explains these common hedge difficulties. Infallible instinct has not supplied protection for the young birds, nor has the experience of hundreds of years of nest-building taught the chaffinch or the missel-thrush to give its offspring a fair start in the famous ‘struggle for existence.’ Boys who want linnets or goldfinches watch till the young are almost ready to bubble over, and then place them in a cage where the old birds come and feed them. There is, then, no reason why the nest itself should not be designed for the safety of the fledgling as well as of the egg. Birds that nest in holes are frequently very prolific, notably the starling, which rears its brood by thousands in the hollow trees of forests. Though not altogether, in part their vast numbers appear due to the fact that their fledglings escape decimation…

…To understand birds you must try and see things as they see them, not as you see them. They are quite oblivious of your sentiments or ideas, and their actions have no relation to yours. … They look at the matter from the very opposite point of view. The more thoroughly the artificial system of natural history ethics is dismissed from the mind the more interesting wild creatures will be found, because while it is adhered to a veil is held before the eyes, and nothing useful can ever be discovered. “

First Image: 1879 lithograph
Second Image: Richard Jeffries; from the bust by Miss Margaret Thomas, in Salisbury Cathedral.

Esteemed thinker: John Burroughs

robin close up For those who live in a hemisphere that awards the four seasons, it is winter that challenges us to be creative in ways that the other seasons do not. And though we often find ourselves cursing the cold temperatures, there are some who are most fortunate enough to be able to turn discomfort into pleasure… There are some lucky folks that can defrost frosty sentiments by a warm fireplace. In these homes cold hands are reminders to make a mug of hot chocolate, while icy feet walk themselves into a pair of woolly slippers.

And though many would prefer to remain indoors so as not to be bitten by its harsh winds; if you take a look from your window, winter has invited into its world some very enchanting visitors, birds. Look closely among the leafless branches, under the holly bushes, or flitting to and fro, and you may find quite a variety of winged guests, which makes you wonder how it is that they are not cold.

Against the whiteness of snow one notices the scarlet head crest of the cardinal, the black caps and bibs of the chickadees, the iridescent green and purple flossed head of the starlings, and hidden in the house eves are the rust colored sparrows. The birds of winter are like pieces of a rainbow that have broken off and flutter from snow crest to crest; they delight our world from our safe warm place in the winter.

John BurroughsToday’s post introduces the literary naturalist of the ninetieth century,
the esteemed thinker: John Burroughs (1837-1921). Born in Roxbury, N.Y., he is credited as an essayist, environmentalist, and the man who revolutionized the “conservation movement” in the United States. Burroughs quest to become a writer turned favorable when he befriended the poet Walt Whitman, who encouraged him to continue the path he loved. His writings and studies regarding nature later granted him the title of, “The Grand Old Man of Nature.” Best known for his observations of birds, flowers, and rural America, it is his quote that exemplifies his true feelings; “I seldom go into a natural history museum without feeling as if I were attending a funeral.”

From his book titled, Birds, and Bees Sharp Eyes and Other Papers, I have prepared a brief reading. Find a quiet moment to take in the sights revealed by our essayist and champion of nature, Mr. Burroughs….

“…These sparrows are becoming about the most noticeable of my winter neighbors, and a troop of them every morning watch me put out the hens’ feed, and soon claim their share. I rather encouraged them in their neighborliness, till one day I discovered the snow under a favorite plum-tree where they most frequently perched covered with the scales of the fruit-buds. On investigating I found that the tree had been nearly stripped of its buds—a very unneighborly act on the part of the sparrows, considering, too, all the cracked corn I had scattered for them …

… The bird that seems to consider he has the best right to the bone both upon the tree and upon the sill is the downy woodpecker, my favorite neighbor among the winter birds His retreat is but a few paces from my own, in the decayed limb of an apple-tree which he excavated several autumns ago. I say “he” because the red plume on the top of his head proclaims the sex. It seems not to be generally known to our writers upon ornithology that certain of our woodpeckers—probably all the winter residents—each fall excavate a limb or the trunk of a tree in which to pass the winter, and that the cavity is abandoned in the spring, probably for a new one in which nidification takes place. So far as I have observed, these cavities are drilled out only by the males. Where the females take up their quarters I am not so well informed, though I suspect that they use the abandoned holes of the males of the previous year…”